When I walk from the car park to the entrance of the Villa Romana del Casale, I feel thrilled with anticipation. I am a mosaic lover, and I am about to see the richest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. A friendly guide presents himself, and while I normally prefer to explore by myself, I stop to think about his offer. It turns out an Italian couple is also considering to use his services, so we decide to team up. We walk past the thermal baths, while our guide explains the history of the villa. Probably used as a retreat and hunting lodge, the villa was also used to receive guests and was quite extensive. Built in the 4th century CE, it was used until the 12th century, when a mudslide covered the villa and its mosaics. This turned out to be a big plus: when excavations started in the 1950s, the mosaics turned out to be in good shape after 700 years of muddy protection.
After seeing the thermae with mosaic-covered floors, we see a hall where chariot races are depicted in a large mosaic, which reminds me of a similar, smaller one I saw in a Roman villa in Libya some ten months prior. We enter the main building, where walkways have been installed, allowing visitors to admire the works of art from above without stepping on them. What follows is an hour of explanations of the works below, the different scenes, our guide pointing to details we would not have noticed ourselves. The square peristyle has rows of slender columns and an open courtyard in the middle; around it, a corridor with circular medallions with heads of all kinds of animals inside. We see a room with mosaics depicting a family about to go to a bath. Then, there are rooms with hunting scenes: hunters chasing animals with their dogs, spearing them, catching them in their nets, being attacked by them, carrying their booty home, and having a party under a tree.
Other rooms have mythological scenes, relevant to the function of the room. Thus, we see a scene with Orpheus in a room used to listen to music. There is one scene with kids riding chariots driven by ostrich, geese, and flamingoes, with one winner carrying a laurel wreath. At a semicircular atrium, a rich mosaic with kids on the hunt. The most outstanding mosaic is without doubt the great hunting scene, a 60 metres (!) long mosaic depicting the hunt for exotic animals to be taken to Rome. On our far left: Mauritania (west), and on the right, Asia (east). Animals are caught, and loaded onto ships for their voyage to Rome. Animals range from tigers, elephants, deer, and even a rhinoceros. There is so much to discover here, the longer you look, the more you see. The mosaics were probably made by African artisans, and the animals depicted here surely imply so. It explains why I am reminded of the mosaics I saw in Libya. In the private apartments, we see the most famous mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale: ten bikini-clad girls doing different kinds of sports: running, ball games, even weight lifting. Another room has Odysseus giving Polyphemos, the cyclops who is depicted with three eyes here, a cup of wine so he can carry out his plan to kill the giant and escape. Another one has an erotic scene of a couple, looking surprised at the visitor. After our guided tour, I do it all over again, slower now, paying closer attention to the incredibly fine details and craftsmanship at display here. A true paradise for a mosaic lover like me!
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Villa Romana del Casale (Italy). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Villa Romana del Casale. Read more about this site.